With Fire In My Belly

By the eighth week of the quarter, I’m tired. Very tired. Hard working students are on track with their learning while some previously detached students become industrious. Their opportunity to get “paid” for their effort, via a passing grade, has almost passed. They sense this and approach their work with vigor. I hope the best for them, but I shudder at the thought of what they still must do. It makes me even more tired and I turn my mind away from the thought. I go to an extra yoga class and try to let go.

Then, in my mind, I look around and start to take stock. Which students are thriving? Which students are at risk of failing? Which ones are performing below their abilities? Then I think about what I’ve done and what value it had. My conclusion is almost always the same. I’m convinced that my choices benefited (were perhaps even ideal) for some students. But I’m also convinced that my choices were not what all the students hoped for. Then, in my mind, I look to the future. Should I do more lecturing and less group work next time? Or am I happy with that balance? Should I be stricter or more flexible next time? What could I do to help them better understand improper integrals or sequences and series? How can I help them to see that most things are the way they are not because of a weird, made-up rule, but rather because they really couldn’t be any other way. One of my mentors taught me that. “You have to try to get them to see that it couldn’t be any other way.”

And as I think these thoughts, ideas always come to me, perhaps one last activity I can give them on a hard topic. Then I shift my sights to what is coming up. As I prepare my final exams, my mind becomes distracted, always wanting to look forward to what I will do differently next time, next quarter. My mind clears and my belly seems to fill with fire. And right then I know that I can do anything. Right then, I know the creativity, passion, and insight that lives within me but wanes under the day to day demands called work load. Right then I feel the power that I have and recognize that the window of opportunity is short and precious. And as I grade the finals and observe what students understand and don’t understand, I scribble down my ideas to improve my teaching. I turn in my grades; and knowing that I will not have time to get to the bottom of my list, I get started. And that time between quarters, away from daily work commitments is amazingly liberating and precious. With fire in my belly, and love in my heart, I think, “this is who I am.”

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